As racial disparities in health come more clear in coronavirus and in the national debate over policing, a Connecticut state senator asked Gov. Ned Lamont Monday to declare racism a public health emergency for the entire state.
Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, cited statistics from the Connecticut Health Foundation and other sources showing that babies born to black mothers in Connecticut are four times more likely to die in their first year of life than those born to white mothers; that black diabetic patients are four times more likely to need amputations; and that black and Latino children are far more likely to suffer from asthma.
“It is well recognized that racial bias and discrimination have significant negative physical and mental health consequences. Incidents of depression, anxiety, hypertension, breast cancer and pre-term birth, as well as low-birth rate babies, are associated just with the presence of racial bias and discrimination,” Anwar wrote in a letter to Lamont. “This is based on the body's stress response system becoming much more active because of the experiences of the individual and has long-term physical and psychological effects.”
Connecticut would be the first state to declare racism a health crisis or health emergency, following about 20 cities and counties, notably Boston on Friday in a declaration by Mayor Marty Walsh, who vowed to reallocate $3 million in police overtime to public health efforts.
Anwar, who is highly outspoken on health issues, is a pulmonologist at Eastern Connecticut Health Network, directing coronavirus efforts.
“The above-mentioned situation has been magnified in the last many weeks where the likelihood of death from COVID-19 is much higher among minority groups,” Anwar, wrote to Lamont.
Lamont said he agreed with the sentiment but had not had a chance to study Anwar’s proposal. “I think I’ve said a number of times. There are two highly infectious germs that are infecting the body. One is COVID and the other is racism in this state. I could not have been clearer on that and we’re going to eradicate both as quickly as we can.”
State Rep. Brandon McGee, D-Hartford, chairman of the General Assembly’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, said some state officials have been working with Health Equity Solutions, a nonprofit, “literally declaring health as a new standard when you begin talking about racism so that’s not anything new.”
He added, “I’m glad Sen. Anwar sent that open letter, but there’s a groundswell of community advocates that have been meeting with the governor with respect to that as well.”